Get the facts: find out what really happens in Australian slaughterhouses
Abattoir: A building which is licensed for the slaughter of animals and initial preparation of carcases for human consumption, also commonly called a slaughterhouse, processing plant or meatworks. Such buildings vary in size and sophistication depending on the species to be handled, the degree of preparation of the carcase before sale, and local government ordinance. The premises would normally contain the following facilities: accommodation for animals awaiting slaughter (called lairage or holding pens), a slaughter area (termed a kill floor or slaughter hall), an area for emergency slaughter, a refrigerated area, detained meat area with adequate space for holding suspect meat (see condemnation), offal, gut and tripe area, hide and skin area, cutting or boning room, despatch area, amenities for personnel, and a veterinary officers room. Abattoirs are becoming increasingly specialised with many newer plants catering for one species only. Smaller abattoirs are closing down, making way for larger abattoirs that can slaughter higher numbers of animals per day. The slaughter of animals unfit for human consumption may be carried out in a knacker’s yard or knackery.
AUS-MEAT: an Australian company that incorporates AUS-MEAT Standards and AUS-MEAT Commercial Services. AUS-MEAT is responsible for establishing and maintaining national industry standards for meat production and processing. The AUS-MEAT language, which forms part of the AUS-MEAT Standards, provides a common language of objective descriptors to help the supply chain achieve a consistent, quality product.
Bobby calf: A calf that has been removed from his or her mother. (In the case of a dairy cow, this generally happens when the calf is only a few days old so the mother’s milk supply can be collected for human consumption instead).
Boning: Process of removing meat from the bones of a carcase, the meat of which is then termed “ boned-out”. This process is conventionally carried out after the carcase has set (completion of rigor mortis) and chilled. Boning can also be carried out prior to rigor and is then termed hot boning.
By-products: Non-carcase parts of the animal, both edible (e.g. liver) and inedible (e.g. gut contents)
Carcase (carcass): The body of an animal killed for meat. The term usually applies following the removal of various parts from the dead body (dressing).
Casualty animal (casualty slaughter): An animal slaughtered prematurely for meat as a result of an accident, injury or wound. This is also known as emergency slaughter. Emergency slaughter of animals with unspecified illness can be a source of risk to human health, therefore veterinary inspections of the animal prior to slaughter and of the carcase are made before deeming such meat fit for human consumption.
Cattle: Bovine animals, specifically ‘beef cattle’ or ‘dairy cattle’.
Chilling: The reduction in temperature of a carcase. It is used to restrict the growth of pathogens and spoilage micro-organisms in meat (see microbiology) and hence reduce deterioration and improve food safety. The chilling process generally involves placing carcases in conditions of 0 to 5 °C within one hour of slaughter (post-mortem). Conventional chilling typically involves holding the carcases at an air temperature of 0 to 5 °C until the muscle temperature is below 7 °C throughout. Rapid chilling involves subjecting the carcase to sub-zero temperatures (perhaps as low as -30 °C) and high air velocity for a short period of time (typically 30 to 90 minutes). Rapid chilling is carried out to reduce evaporative weight loss (see water holding capacity, drip loss) from the carcase and can also improve some aspects of carcase quality (see PSE). There may also be benefits in saving energy and chiller space requirements. However, rapid chilling can also lead to cold shortening, and unless chilling follows electrical stimulation or pelvic suspension a reduction in meat tenderness may occur. The rate of muscle cooling within the carcase post-mortem is not uniform, even within the same muscle. The centre of a muscle can take considerably longer to cool than the outside edge of a muscle. The position of the muscle within the body will also determine how quickly and to what degree chilling will take place. The rate of cooling of the carcase is markedly affected by the size and fatness of the carcase, and the chilling process ( particularly the temperature and rate of air movement past the carcase). A high subcutaneous fat (backfat) cover on the carcase can act as an insulator, reducing cooling rate and helping to prevent cold shortening.
Cull: Breeding animals of any species slaughtered at the end of their productive lives. The term most commonly refers to dairy cattle or suckler cows, sows and ewes. The meat from these animals tends to be tough (see tenderness) with a large amount of insoluble connective tissue present ( see collagen). The meat from cull animals possess different, often stronger flavour characteristics from younger animals.
CO2 stunning (carbon dioxide anaesthesia): A method used to render an animal unconscious for slaughter. CO2 gas (at least 80% CO2) can be an effective alternative to electrical stunning (see stunning). CO2 stunning can be a useful method of reducing or preventing blood splash. Sometimes referred to as controlled atmosphere stunning (CAS).
Exsanguination: The technique used to drain the blood from the carcase of an animal at slaughter. Also known as sticking or bleeding. Following stunning, the animal is bled by severing the major blood vessels. Sticking can be carried out at the neck or the chest (often referred to as a thoracic stick). Sticking must ensure that at least one of the carotid arteries (or the vessels from which they arise) is severed. If electrical stunning is used prior to exsanguination, it is important to minimise the time between the two operations so as to reduce the occurrence of blood splash. Some methods of ritual slaughter practised within Australia use exsanguination only, without stunning, for certain animal species.
Halal: Permissible or lawful to eat in accordance with Islamic law.
Haram: Not permissible or forbidden to eat in accordance with Islamic law.
Lairage: Holding area for animals at an abattoir.
Meatworks: See abattoir
NIP (Not In Pig): A condition of sows where insemination appears to have gone correctly and the sow is thought to be pregnant, but towards the end of the pregnancy (e.g. 15 weeks) shows no actual sign of pregnancy and does not give birth to any piglets. These sows are considered a waste of resources and are sent to slaughter.
Processing plant: See abattoir
Sticking: See exsanguination
Scalding tank: A vat or tank of water at a temperature of about 60°C, in which pigs are plunged in order to soften their skin and remove bristles/hairs.
Slaughterhouse: See abattoir